U.S. Ambassador’s Remarks on World AIDS Day

U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer’s Address

“Getting to Epidemic Control in Malawi”

Commemoration of World AIDS Day

December 1, 2017

10:00AM – 12:00PM

Blantyre Youth Center, Blantyre District

  • Minister Atupele Muluzi, MP, Minister of Health
  • Dan Namarika, Secretary for Health
  • His Worship, The Mayor, Councilor Willard Ndipo
  • Eugene Nyarko, WHO Resident Representative
  • Therese Poirier, UNAIDS Country Director
  • Paramount Chief Kyungu XXIV, Board Chairperson, National AIDS Commission
  • Alfred Chanza, Blantyre Chief Executive Officer
  • Maziko Matemba, Board Chairperson of MANASO
  • Medson Matchaya, Blantyre District Health Officer
  • Andrew Gonani, Director of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital
  • Mwapatsa Mipando, College of Medicine Principal
  • Allan Ngumuya, Blantyre City South, MP
  • Traditional Authority Kapeni
  • Senior Government Officials
  • Members of the press
  • Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

I am honored to be with you all here today in Blantyre, representing the United States Government, at Malawi’s 2017 World AIDS Day commemoration.

This commemoration is an opportunity to honor those who have lost their lives to AIDS and reaffirm our ongoing commitment to help those who are living with HIV/AIDS and those at risk for getting the disease.

We also take this opportunity to celebrate those who are caring for people living with HIV/AIDS – the caregivers and families, the friends and communities.

I know that everyone gathered here today is either personally affected by HIV/AIDS or actively working to control the scope of the epidemic.

In Malawi, we have a historic opportunity to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic – ultimately ending it as a public health threat in Malawi – without a vaccine or a cure.

According to the latest data from Malawi’s Population-based HIV Impact Assessment –Malawi is one of five high-burden countries in Africa approaching control of its epidemic. That is truly remarkable. What once seemed impossible is now possible.

To understand how far we have come, we have to think of where we were twelve years ago. In 2005, at least one million people were living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi, but less than 30,000 people were on life-saving treatment. Today, in Malawi, over 725,000 people are receiving treatment for HIV, with 90% of those people supported by the U.S. Government. This means that three quarters of all people living with HIV in Malawi are receiving treatment, a truly staggering achievement.

But we have more work to do. We know there are about 330,000 people in Malawi who are living with HIV who still need life-saving treatment.  We know the main reason that they are not getting treatment is that they are unaware of their HIV positive status. We also know there are millions of young people at risk of contracting the disease.  We are so close to controlling the epidemic in Malawi – but we have more work to do to get there.

This year, the United States Government’s theme for World AIDS Day is “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability, and Partnerships.” And what I like most about this theme is the emphasis on partnerships – it means we are in this together.

To get to epidemic control in Malawi, we need to chart a bold course for accelerated implementation – together with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)’s support. We need to redefine business as usual.

To reach those 330,000 people who have HIV but are not yet on treatment, we need to use efficient, effective and safe HIV testing modalities recommended by the World Health Organization, including Voluntary Assisted Partner Notification.  This means working with people who are HIV-positive to contact their partners and offer them testing, as they have a high likelihood of also being HIV-positive.

And to protect the future, we need to keep adolescent girls and young women healthy and safe and empowered. We know that HIV incidence is eight times higher among females aged 15-24 than among their male peers of the same age.  Adolescent girls now comprise almost a third of new infections in Malawi. This means the burden of HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects adolescent girls and young women.  We must change this.

To keep our girls and young women healthy and safe and empowered, we need to keep them in school and give all girls the opportunity to go to school.  Keeping girls in school and increasing access to quality education, greatly increases their chances of remaining HIV-free.

To keep girls safe, we need to protect them from violence and empower them.  Within communities and schools, girls’ clubs strengthen girls’ ability to recognize and prevent situations that put them at risk for violence.

Men – you are important here, too. Get tested.  Know your status. If you are negative, we’ll help you stay negative.  If you are positive, you can get treatment right away to save your life, and help protect the people you love from infection.

When I look out at this audience, I see a very bright future for Malawi.  I see a future where young people – just like you – are empowered and resilient and safe.  I see a Malawi where young women are succeeding in secondary school and in the workforce; where girls are afforded the same opportunities as boys.  And I see a country – already leading the way in the global HIV/AIDS response – that will show other countries how effective service delivery and rapid implementation of key policies saves lives and makes history.

Working together, we will beat HIV and AIDS for good.